11/17/2015

Be Our Strength Every Morning (Isaiah 33:1-16)

"Lord, be gracious to us! We wait for You. Be our strength every morning and our salvation in time of trouble" (Isa 33:2, HCSB).

Isaiah 33 continues the description of the kingdom of the true messiah. It is introduced by the 6th and final woe in this section that began in Isaiah 28. But this woe is not addressed to the people of Israel or its leaders, but to the enemy of Jerusalem, almost certainly Assyria. The true king is the one who can bring about the deliverance that the drunken blind leaders cannot. 33:1-16 has two parts:
  1. The woe and an appeal to God (1-6).
    • the woe (1).
    • an appeal to God (2), which is based on
    • God's character and power (3-6).
  2. Deliverance to come from God (7-16).
    • the hopelessness of the situation (7-9).
    • a promise by God to take action (10-16).
I. The Woe and an Appeal to God (33:1-6).

The emphasis on betrayal (Isa 33:1) suggests that the specific occasion for this woe was when Sennacherib accepted Hezekiah's payment to break off his attack on Judah and then did not (2 Ki 18:13-16). But Assyria is not named indicating that Isaiah has in mind a much larger theological context. All the destructive and deceptive character of earth's nations is used as a foil to depict the radically different character of the biblical God and of the kingdom he will build.

The outcome desired throughout this section is that the people will wait/long for the Lord (Isa 33:2; 30:18). Perhaps the Israelites have been forced to because the promised Egyptian help has proven useless (Isa 30:7; 31:1). They are now no longer trusting the nations and have nowhere else to turn but to God, who is always able to deliver (33:3-6).

The Lord is the One who is truly "exalted" (Isa 33:5). But he does not use his position as a justification for oppression. Instead, his character will provide a "foundation" on which people can live with confidence (Isa 33:6; 28:16-17). That foundation is "justice and righteousness" (Isa 33:5) and on it can be erected "salvation," "wisdom and knowledge" (Isa 33:6). All of this is available to the person who acknowledges that God is the Lord and gives him reverent obedience: "the fear of the Lord" (Isa 33:6b).

II. Deliverance to Come from God (33:7-16).

33:7-9 paint a picture of hopelessness that is consistent with the situation after Sennacherib took Hezekiah's tribute and then refused to leave. There is no relief in sight, nor is there cooling breeze or restorative rain (Isa 33:9 depicts the situation in terms of a drought). But there is hope. There is no Assyria that is greater than God, and God will make that fact plain. Assyria's own peoples will be consumed in the blaze (Isa 33:12). The destruction of Sennacherib's army in Judah is only a foretaste of the destruction of the entire empire less than a hundred years later (621-609 BC).

The Assyrians and all the other mighty nations of earth are not the main actors in this scene; the Lord is. It is his power (Isa 33:13) that rules the earth and brings the empires down to ashes. If the nations produce the tinder and provide the spark, the "consuming fire" is the Lord himself; he is the everlasting burning (Isa 33:14) with whom people must somehow come to terms.

What is required of us to live in the presence of "the consuming fire"? All that is required is a change of character on our part (Isa 33:15-16): Do and say "what is right," that is, what is in keeping with some standard, a standard that is obviously determined by God, which is spelled out in the specifics of "right behavior" (Isa 33:15-16). As is usually the case in such lists, the behaviors are primarily relational.

Oswalt, John N. Isaiah: The New Application Commentary. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2003.

Across the years, Isaiah has come to be known as "the prince of the prophets." The book of Isaiah seems to address at least two, and perhaps three different settings:
  1. 1-39 (740-700): Isaiah's own times.
  2. 40-55 (585-540): Judean exiles in Babylon.
  3. 56-66 (539 onwards): Reflecting on conditions in Judah after the return from exile.
Isaiah is like a modern symphony, with themes appearing and reappearing in fascinating harmony.